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Sometimes, you have to travel a bit off the beaten path to find salvation from the onslaught that is the mainstream moviemaking machine. In the case of these excellent examples of the medium, creativity trumps the commercial, while experimentation and individual voice rule over rote regurgitation of the same old genre tropes.


 

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Escape from Tomorrow

Director: Randy Moore
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor

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Escape from Tomorrow
Mankurt Media


Using the concept of wish fulfillment against a backdrop of pre-programmed fun, Escape from Tomorrow wants to suggest that anything is possible in the Disney Universe, both good and bad. Fathers can find “release” in the sweat slicked bodies of vivacious young girls while their own kids head off to less carnal concerns like princesses and amusement park pandering. It’s wallows in the hidden wickedness of such a suggestion, manipulating the House of Mouse’s copyrighted imagery to turn tiny animatronic figures into briefly glimpsed demons and the great unwashed into hyper-entitled trolls. Like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (an auteur who Moore apes with limited success), we are supposed to see the ugly underneath, the corruption that is covered up by fairytale recreations and outrageously priced adventures. Again, this is typical of most people’s approach to Disney. The company is such a pervasive part of our popular culture that you can’t help but feel trapped by its menacing rhinestone media tentacles. Bill Gibron


 

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The Broken Circle Breakdown

Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg

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The Broken Circle Breakdown
Tribeca Films


Elise is addicted to tattoos; Didier is obsessed with American bluegrass music. The Belgian couple falls in love with a passion hotter than the Orange Blossom Special. After their daughter Maybelle is born—named for bluegrass matriarch Maybelle Carter—and Elise joins Didier’s band of beardy bluegrass rascals, the happy circle feels complete. Be prepared for an emotional breakdown—one that will change the shape of your face. When Maybelle gets life-threateningly sick, the couple must simultaneously experience the jubilation and heartbreak of loving her, those extremes expressed in the music they cling to throughout. Occasionally, a musical interlude turns maudlin when it’s meant to be moving, but that’s a minor quibble for a film that grips hard and doesn’t let go. Beautifully shot by director Felix Van Groeningen, the film surveys American influences both good and evil, and when Didier rails against Bush-era vetos of stem cell research, your blood will boil with his. And bring on the awards for the spitfire performance of Veerle Baetens as Elise, an acting feat that packs a wallop from start to finish. Steve Leftridge


 

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Kill Your Darlings

Director: John Krokidas
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen

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Kill Your Darlings
Sony Pictures Classic


John Krokidas’ fireworks-heavy take on the 1944 murder of David Kammerer by literary scenester and Kerouac pal Lucien Carr doesn’t just feature a mesmeric performance by Dane DeHaan as Carr and Daniel Radcliffe’s vulnerable take on a young Allen Ginsberg about to spread his poetic wings. It’s also a refreshingly non-precious portrait of the nascent Beat scene in all its vivaciously pretentious glory, drunk on words and the thrill of hurling dynamite at an ossified literary establishment. Like their hero Rimbaud, these are writers and would-be writers who thought themselves outlaws, and behaved accordingly. Chris Barsanti


 

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Wadjda

Director: Haifaa al-Mansour
Cast: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdulrahman al-Guhani

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Wadjda
Koch Media


Billed as the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first feature film made by a female Saudi director, Wadjda is a cultural landmark. Writer/director Haifaa al-Mansour has crafted an uplifting ode to female liberation in the face of oppression. Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a free-spirited pre-teen who struggles to find her identity in a constraining male-centric culture. In order to pay for a bicycle she desires but is forbidden to ride because of her gender, she participates in her school’s Koran recitation competition. Despite the film’s charming tone, there is a powerful political message at its core that cannot be forgotten: In many cultures, women remain disenfranchised. With Wadjda, al-Mansour bravely uses the cinematic medium to speak for those who are silenced. Is anyone listening? Jon Lisi


 

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The Genius of Marian

Director: Banker White, Anna Fitch
Cast: Pam White

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The Genius of Marian
Tribeca Films

Five years ago, Pam White started writing a book about her mother, the gifted painter Marian Williams Steele, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001. A year into the project, at age 61, Pam herself was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. At that point, Pam’s son, filmmaker Banker White, set out to document his mother’s battle with dementia. Mixing home video of Pam as a vibrant young mother (she was an actress and model) with new footage of Pam’s increasing incapacitation, the film manages to be graceful and beautiful amid the candid access to a family’s sadness and the crushing effects of the disease. The details on display are disheartening, but by making this tender film about Pam—and the stalwart courage and caregiving of her husband Ed—the director has both fulfilled his mother’s desire to preserve the memory of Marian and provided an intimate portrait of a disease that affects over five-million American families. One of the year’s best documentaries. Steve Leftridge


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